Brinnon parks district board off to heated start
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Doug Hixson, left, and Nicole Black chat after Wednesday's contentious parks and recreation district meeting at the Brinnon Community Center. Fellow committee member Bud Schindler is seen at rear, left.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

BRINNON — Despite a contentious meeting this week, members of the newly formed Brinnon Parks and Recreation District think they can pull together to provide a degree of increased self-governance for the East Jefferson County town.

“I think we can work together,” said Doug Hixson, who was elected as committee chair during the Wednesday night meeting.

“We may not always agree, but I want to move forward and do things for the community.”

“We'll be fine,” said Nicole Black, who was removed as chairwoman at Hixson's initiative.

“We'll be able to work together.”

Voters created the parks district in November to sponsor community projects and accept grants for their completion, with the eventual goal of imposing a property tax levy for support of those projects.

Along with Hixson and Black, the board consists of Bud Schindler, Jacque Booth and Sue Bettinger.

Black was elected chairwoman of the board in January with the understanding that new officers would be elected Wednesday, which was billed as the first annual meeting.

After the election, she was the only board member without a title.

Schindler was elected vice chairman, and Bettinger and Booth were named secretary and treasurer, respectively.

Hixson said this was by design.

“You don't work well with others,” he said to Black during the meeting.

“That's why we voted you out as chair.”

Black said the ill will on the board came to a head when the other board members reacted unfavorably to a piece she wrote for the Brinnon Crier newsletter, in which she encouraged people to attend Wednesday's meeting, and voiced her opinion of the recording of public meetings and allowing anonymous comments, both of which she favors.

The other commissioners called it a “press release,” saying she had no authority to send it to the newsletter without board approval.

Hixson wanted to discuss the issue in a closed executive session, but Black preferred a public discussion, which was the last item on Wednesday's agenda.

Black had sought an opinion from the Attorney General's Office and received an email from Open Government Ombudsman Tim Ford, who advised Black of her right to forgo the executive session if she chose.

“The district should be cautious in acting on this complaint,” Ford said.

“The personal communications of individuals are protected by the free speech provisions of the U.S. and Washington constitutions, and an individual who is also the chair of a public agency does not surrender their free speech rights,” he said.

“The district may adopt its own policy for issuing press releases in addition to individual members communicating with the public,” Ford said.

“However, any policy should steer away from an attempt to restrain the personal communications of individual members.”

The development of policy and procedures is still a work in progress for the board, with advice coming from the floor.

One suggestion was that board members not immediately respond to public comments.

“Maybe when you hear a public comment, you shouldn't try to explain yourself right away. You should just take into account what you have heard before you say anything,” said George Sickel.

“I think the goal should be consensus,” said Cathy Ackerman, who worked to create the district.

“I'm just asking that we don't kill the baby.”

Joe Baisch said the contentious board will have difficulty getting support for any levy proposal.

“I've organized levy schemes, both successful and unsuccessful,” Baisch said.

“I urge you to remember that you need a supermajority, 60 percent plus one, in order to pass a levy, and you need to keep that in focus.”

The board can propose a property tax of up to 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a $200,000 house would pay $120 a year if the maximum amount were levied.

Approval of that assessment would be through a ballot measure, which will not take place in 2013, Hixson said Thursday.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 13. 2013 6:20PM
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